I have been looking forward to this topic for WEEKS! As someone who spends most of her reading time devouring dystopias, I have a massive list of terrifying and disturbing worlds that I’d never want to live in that is far longer than necessary for this exercise. It was truly a Herculean effort to narrow things down (which is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration), but here are the top ten fictional worlds that I would never want to experience personally. (And thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting!)
1. Neil Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology universe – Between the ages of 13 to 18, you have no right to life
At some point, I am going to have to talk about Neil Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology on this blog because his series is one of the best YA stories I’ve read in a while. The strength of the Unwind universe is that it is a truly horrifying dystopic world. The story takes place an indeterminate amount of time in the future. The most significant technological change that readers have to deal with is the fact that humanity has invented a way to ensure that rejection is no longer an issue with the transplantation of any body part. Shortly after this discovery was made, laws were changed to allow parents to “unwind” their children at any time between the ages of 13 to 18. Unwinding is the process of dismantling a person into their component parts to be used as transplants in other people. Those undergoing the process are conscious during the procedure (though suffer no pain), and there is a lot of evidence that their consciousness lives on at least partially in the bodies that they are transplanted into. Not only do teenagers arbitrarily not have the right to life in this world, they aren’t even properly killed, and may exist in some weird, half-conscious state. The idea of a world where some lives are so incredibly undervalued is revolting to me, and the danger that teenagers are in is disturbing beyond description.
2. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe – An insular world ruled by nepotism and ignorance
For many, the world of Harry Potter is a place that they’ve dreamed of living in. They’ve waited for their Hogwarts letters, and imagined what it would be like to wander through Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. For me, however, the world is a perfect dystopia. Harry Potter’s universe is isolated, insular, and relies heavily on nepotism to function. Wizarding society is paranoid of muggles and modern technology, stymied by oppressive beliefs, and almost nothing in their world is organised in a rational or stable manner. According to canon, the government has been corrupt for decades, there aren’t all that many job opportunities or sites of innovation for members of the community other than said corrupt government, and, if you’re a muggle-born, you’re basically forcibly disconnected from your world the moment you receive your Hogwarts letter. Children are trained in dangerous magical arts, but it doesn’t seem like anyone bothers to teach them basic math or literacy skills. Honestly, a world where someone can cast painful curses, but doesn’t have a rudimentary knowledge of civics education is a scary one indeed. Despite all the cool things you can do as a witch or a wizard, I’ll hold onto my muggle identity.
3. Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing universe – Where being smart means you’ll either be very privileged or very dead
The world of The Testing is particularly intriguing for me because I’m one of those smart kids who does really well in school, and has been pegged as leadership material all throughout my education. To see a universe in which my types of skills are rewarded is really exciting. Unfortunately, this is also a world where the best and the brightest are tested both mentally and physically, and the examinations quite often end in death. Not only do Charbonneau’s characters have to sit gruelling written exams, but they are dropped off in a desolate wasteland and told to fight their way back to civilization. Sure, if you win at their game you have the chance to be a world leader, but the stakes are incredibly high. And here I thought law school was bad…
4. Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It universe – A world of slow destruction and death
Most recent dystopias/post-apocalyptic/disaster novels have been exciting and full of suspense. Life As We Knew It takes a different, probably more realistic approach to what could happen to a family trying to survive the end of the world. Miranda and her loved ones face isolation, starvation, and terrible illness in the days after the moon’s orbital shift that caused devastating climate change on Earth. It’s a universe that really shows you how hopeless and inevitable death and loss can seem in this type of situation, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d survive in that world.
5. Mira Grant’s News Flesh universe – A world filled with aggressive zombies and corrupt living people
When I was trying to think of a world that made me shiver in terror, the words “zombie kangaroos” kept running through my head. In the News Flesh universe, the zombie virus can infect any living creature that is larger than a medium sized dog. (Australia has somehow become even scarier than it is now…) The virus is also extremely contagious, and people must submit to blood tests on almost every street corner (those of us with severe needle phobias do not approve). Furthermore, the scientists who are supposed to be helping humanity cure this illness aren’t actually all that interested in accomplishing this purpose. While I absolutely loved reading this series of books, I’d never want to have to deal with the realities of this universe!
6. Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink universe – A world without water
In the world created by McGinnis, water is an extremely rare and precious commodity. Lynn’s entire life is centered on ensuring that the pond outside her house remains safe. A lot of stories touch on the difficulties of scarcity of food, but the idea of water being hard to obtain is truly horrifying. A person who is denied water can die within days. We use water to clean ourselves. Without water, our wounds are more easily infected and our food possibly contaminated. Without water, we can’t even grow our own food or raise livestock. A world without water is a world where humanity is going to go extinct very shortly.
7. Atwood’s MaddAdam universe – A world of hyperconsumerism falls to a manufactured plague
Atwood’s MaddAdam world is scary because it feels like it could actually be a possibility for our future. Consumerism governs the world, and economic inequality is dramatic. Technology has given humanity many marvellous things, but it has also allowed us to live out our most depraved desires. Thus, humans have become myopic and selfish, and community is a neglected ideal. Then Crake, a bioengineering genius, gets it in his head to wipe the slate clean… As a precautionary tale, Atwood does a fantastic job of writing about what our world could become, and it’s a place that I really hope I never have to experience.
8. Paul Antony Jones’ Extinction Point universe – A world where almost everyone is dead, and bizarre and scary aliens have made Earth into something unrecognisable
Extinction Point started with the fall of an alien red rain that killed basically every single person on the planet save for our protagonist and a few stragglers that she finds on her journey. If the idea of being the last human being on Earth isn’t chilling enough, then read on to see how the alien presence starts to terraform our planet and release strange and dangerous flora and fauna. Emily’s encounters with these creatures gave me actual nightmares. Earth is no longer humanity’s home, and everything that is taking over wants us dead (preferably via digestion).
9. Holly Black’s Curse Workers universe – A world where people can do terrible things to you with just a simple touch
When I first read the Curse Workers series, I thought that it would be amazing to have magical powers that I could use with just a touch. However, then I remembered the plot of the first book and realised that I could have my emotions manipulated, my memories altered or wiped, or even be killed or transformed into an inanimate object with just the brush of someone else’s fingertip. Additionally, less than one percent of the population has magical powers, and those that do are usually part of organised crime. Upon reflection, I re-evaluated my initial daydreams. The Curseworkers world is terrifying, and I am genuinely surprised that those with powers haven’t all been locked away by a scared majority.
10. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale universe – Where your entire worth (if you are a woman) is defined by whether or not you can be used for your reproductive capacity
Atwood has a tendency of creating worlds that hit very close to home. In the Republic of Gilead, Offred is a Handmaid, a woman whose sole purpose is to submit to impregnation. Fertility rates are incredibly low, and fertile women are seen as common property, passed between different households. If they become pregnant, their children are given to the wives, and they must continue to try and bear more offspring. Women as a class have no rights, and are regarded as useful only in regards to what they can do for men. As someone who does a lot of work in gender-based rights, Atwood’s universe is based on ideas and opinions that I have worked to counter on a regular basis. The realities and implications of her universe make me sick to my stomach, and encourage me to always keep fighting for equality so that none of the realities in Offred’s world come to pass.